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Sunday, October 01, 2006

Categorical error 


Newshounds are well aware that Republican Congressman Mark Foley has resigned for having been caught sending personally intrusive emails to a sixteen year-old page. That the page was male increases the yuck factor for some straights, but it is really beside the point. Whether or not it is smart to send sexually suggestive emails to any colleague -- it isn't, even if millions of people give in to the impulse -- minors are clearly out-of-bounds for middle-aged people regardless of gender or sexuality.

Now, we know that various Republicans, including Speaker Hastert, seem to have known for some time about Foley's activities at a general level, even if they weren't in possession of all the facts. Differing stories have emerged about what Speaker Hastert knew and when he knew it, and Captain Ed thinks he has caught the Speaker in a lie. While it certainly seems that way, it also seems plausible to me on the facts presented that Hastert simply forgot that he had been told. The Speaker of the House must hear of dozens of rumored and substantiated indiscretions over the course of a year, and probably does not remember every last case of who's doing what to whom, especially if it is "only" about some gross emails, not sexual battery or coercion. I would think there is a strong possibility that the Foley story got lost in Hastert's mind along with all the other scandalous or disheartening stuff he has to absorb every day.

John Hinderaker makes this point in the middle of a post with which I otherwise take exception.

The claim is that he sent inappropriate emails to one or more pages. These emails were described to Hastert, apparently, as "over friendly," but he was also told that the family of the page in question "didn't want the matter pursued." I've never been Speaker of the House, but I can imagine that such a conversation would not be among the most significant Hastert has had in the last year, and would not necessarily make a deep impression.

That's fair, and as I've written I can imagine the same thing. John goes on, however, to make a point that I believe amounts to a categorical error, in the sense that he conflates categories:
Our younger readers may not be aware that House pages have figured in several scandals over the years. Congressman Gerry Studds (D-MA) had an affair with a teenage male page that, I believe, included sex within the precincts of the Capitol Building. Studds refused to admit that he had done anything wrong, and turned his back on the House when it censured him for this misconduct in 1983. The voters in Studds's district didn't seem to mind; they continued to re-elect him until he retired in 1996. He is remembered mainly as a pioneering crusader for gay rights.

Then there is Barney Frank, who was reprimanded by the House for using his Congressional office to intervene on behalf of his boyfriend, a homosexual prostitute, to dispose of at least 33 parking tickets. The boyfriend also ran a prostitution ring out of Frank's house. Today, Frank is one of the most powerful members of the Democrats' House caucus.

So I'm not particularly surprised that Foley wrote some "over-friendly"--I'm sure I would find them creepy--emails to one or more underage pages. He has resigned, which is appropriate. Studds and Franks should have resigned, too. But, in view of the history of far more egregious cases in the House, the idea of pursuing the House leadership on a "when did they find out that Foley sent a creepy email" basis seems ludicrous, and is understandable only in the context of two facts: Foley is a Republican, and there is an election in five weeks.

It is a unclear how the Studds and Franks cases reinforce the point that Hastert may have forgotten (as opposed to have lied) about what he knew about Foley's emails. Other than homosexuality, they do not have much in common with the Foley case.

Studds admitted in 1983 to having had a consensual affair with a 17 year-old page ten years before. Because he had violated age of consent laws, the House censured him. That's the point, actually: the House censured him. The Studds case might have been useful precedent for Speaker Hastert to cite to justify a censure motion for Foley -- the path he did not choose -- but it is hardly an explanation for Hastert having forgotten about it.

The Franks case, it seems to me, is even less relevant. Franks wasn't harrassing anybody. He just fixed some parking tickets for his lover. Maybe that's outrageous in Minnesota (as I know it would be in the state of my upbringing, Iowa), but it's the ethical equivalent of driving five miles over the limit in Massachussetts or, for that matter, New Jersey. And, by the way, again the House took at least symbolic action.

We do not know precisely what Foley did, but it was obviously shameful by his own reckoning and judged by him to be politically fatal in his home district (in no small part because the scandal reveals Foley, who unlike Franks or Studds is a vocal moralist, to be a hypocrite [MORE: Foley on Clinton!]). Regardless, the Studds and Franks cases are not useful in Hastert's defense, because in both cases -- unlike the Foley case -- the House took action, however symbolic, to discipline the accused. I still think it is quite plausible that Hastert genuinely forgot about hearing about Foley's emails, but the Studds and Franks cases would have made it more likely that he would remember the conversation about Foley, not less.

NOTE: Glenn Greenwald has weighed in with enough venom to take down an, er, elephant. If you read it, note well that Glenn Reynolds is hardly "promoting" John's argument, just as I am not promoting Glenn Greenwald's rather accusatory post simply by having linked to it. Indeed, I would bet just about my bottom dollar that Glenn the Reynolds does not agree with John's examples, even if he is willing to share in the speculation that Hastert forgot, rather than lied, about hearing of Foley's emails. What is the blogosphere coming to that every link that does not come with a nuanced disclaimer is considered an implicit endorsement? Glenn the Greenwald needs to lower his standards to the slip-shod level that applies here at TigerHawk.

20 Comments:

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Oct 01, 04:15:00 PM:

Apropos Glenn Greenwald's "venom." You seem to imply this is a bad thing, but if any recent political issue deserves venom, it is this one. You have a pedophile bring protected by the house leadership. Then you have a blogger making a lame excuse for the leadership. Venom is too good for this crew.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Oct 01, 04:45:00 PM:

Actual sex with a 16 or 17 year old intern may not be illegal inside the Beltway, yet doesn't the internet angle (Foley's IMs) violate that new federal law Foley himself co-sponsored?

The irony, oh the irony. If Foley did violate the very same federal law he co-sponsored, how should the sentencing go? Minimum or maximum?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Oct 01, 04:51:00 PM:

As for Hastert, there is this which links through to a Hastert press release here:

Held at St. Charles North High School, “Keeping Kids Safe in Cyberspace,” included representatives of local police agencies and a panel of national Internet and law enforcement experts highlighting efforts to make the Internet safer for children. A private question-and-answer session followed, where parents addressed specific concerns and situations with police and web providers.

“Recent news stories remind us that there are predators using the Internet to target children,” Hastert said. “And just as we warn our children about ‘stranger danger’ when they are at the park or answering the door or telephone, we need to be aware of potential dangers in Cyberspace.”
 

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Oct 01, 05:05:00 PM:

Are you sure yer name ain't chickenhawk?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Oct 01, 05:06:00 PM:

"If Foley did violate the very same federal law he co-sponsored, how should the sentencing go? Minimum or maximum?"

Let's follow a precedent, say, Bill Clinton's on sexual harrassment. So other than some public condemnation, none.  

By Blogger Grumpy Old Man, at Sun Oct 01, 06:19:00 PM:

It's not just the stupidity of sending unwelcome sexual emails to minor employees, but the hypocrisy of being an alarm-sounder on the sexual exploitation of children.

Moreover, the leadership knew and should have taken action. If Hastert were a school principal he would have had to report it. Boehner and Hastert should resign.  

By Anonymous Simon Owens, at Sun Oct 01, 07:39:00 PM:

When a high-profile blogger links to something and he doesn't have anything critical to say before or after his link, he's essentially promoting it, or rather, he's sending thousands of readers towards the post, who will be influenced by whatever opinion the poster has made.

You would think this would teach Reynolds a lesson: Take the five seconds to actually comment on links he gives out. I take issue with this for two reasons:

1. It allows him to promote propaganda and then run away from it when it blows up in his face, like in this case. He can always just say "Hey, I was merely linking to it!"

2. Glenn Reynolds is obviously making a lot of money off his blog. It's read by a lot of people. Can't he take a few extra minutes to simply write something about what he links to. Not only because of reasons listed above, but also a lot more people would actually *click* on his links if they knew where it was taking them. I read a lot of blogs, and if I took the time to click on every freakin' link that a blogger gives out, I would probably only be able to read five blog posts a day.

This is why I don't have much respect for blogs like Atrios and Instapundit, who have posts that consist of the words "Wanker of the day" with a link and nothing else. They're essentially one of the few lucky bloggers who made it to the top while virtually having to do nothing but skim through blog posts all day and link to them.

Glenn Greenwald is, by far, the best political blogger on the internet, hands down. His posts are not only meaty, but have real substance, and he doesn't take cheap shots and label people "morons" or "moonbats" like Kos or Michele Malkin.

So whenever Instapundit does link to some conservative nutball, Greenwald has ever right to call him out on it, and should continue to do so.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Oct 01, 07:42:00 PM:

Oh God, not another "But Reynolds only linked, he didn't approve of it" comment!  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Oct 01, 07:45:00 PM:

Oh God, not another "not another 'But Reynolds only linked, he didn't approve of it' comment" comment! Etc.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Oct 01, 07:52:00 PM:

Overly friendly?? Try downright salicious

I still think it is quite plausible that Hastert genuinely forgot about hearing about Foley's emails

Twice? I don't care how busy you are, when you hear about "over friendly" e-mails between a grown man and a 16-year old boy, alarms--heck fire engines should go off in your mind. When you ignore it, you are as reckless as the man you are choosing to protect.  

By Anonymous John, at Sun Oct 01, 09:46:00 PM:

Can someone please check Simon's IP address?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Oct 01, 09:53:00 PM:

Are we getting sock-puppeted?

John in AZ  

By Blogger AMac, at Sun Oct 01, 11:49:00 PM:

TH, I think you are misinterpreting this story. I've only been online a little bit this weekend, but if I'm not mistaken, you are conflating two events:

1. In late 2005, Foley sent a 16/17 year old male page from Louisiana some G-rated emails, and asked for his picture. The page and his parents thought (rightly) that this was creepy, and complained, but refused to go public. This was the circumstance that Hastert's staff and the House Clerk dealt with re: Foley earlier this year.

2. In 2003, Foley had a raunchy, X-rated Instant Message exchange with a former page who was over 18. This IM exchange was made public late last week, and appears to have been the catalyst for Foley's resignation. Hastert (et al.) didn't know about this correspondence any sooner than the rest of us.

Sources: Just One Minute, Clarice Feldman, and Patterico.

Without benefit of hindsight, it's easy to know what Hastert should have done if he had discovered Foley propostioning a 16-year-old page.

Without benefit of hindsight, can one criticize Hastert for not demanding Foley's resignation on seeing copies of a brief, G-rated, 'friendly' email exchange (where the family refuses to go public)?

One JOM commenter speculated that Foley was smart enough to be genial to the underage pages, and then do his serious trawling a few years later, when they were no longer employees of Congress, and past the age of consent.

I presume that commenters will correct me if I've gotten this wrong.  

By Blogger New American Patriot, at Mon Oct 02, 12:47:00 PM:

Whoops, wrong.

Nope. Foley was emailing and IM'ing them about their dick sizes and such nastiness while they were in the program.  

By Blogger AMac, at Mon Oct 02, 02:15:00 PM:

New American Patriot,

Thanks for the correction. Two followups:

--Do you have a link or source for "Foley was emailing and IM'ing them about..."? Not that it would be altogether surprising, but I have only read about the two instances I mentioned.

--What was Hastert/Hastert's office/the House Clerk made aware of (before late last week)? Did they only know about one set of creepy G-rated emails to an over-18, or were they familiar with instances of lewd emails/IMs to under-18 current pages? The mildness of the House leadership's actions against Foley looks defensible in the former circumstance, but would be unforgivably negligent in the latter. Again, links would help.  

By Blogger antiwisdom, at Mon Oct 02, 04:43:00 PM:

"If Foley did violate the very same federal law he co-sponsored, how should the sentencing go? Minimum or maximum?"

Let's follow a precedent, say, Bill Clinton's on sexual harrassment. So other than some public condemnation, none.


Um, Bill Clinton had CONSENSUAL SEX with someone NOT A MINOR.

Foley was a predator of underage boys for years, the Rethuglicans knew about it and COVERED IT UP.

Keep defending the indefensible though. It makes you look real smart like.  

By Blogger AMac, at Mon Oct 02, 05:22:00 PM:

antiwisdom,

I Googled "Foley Rethuglicans Coverup" and didn't find the link you are referring to. Could you provide it? It'll make you look real smart like, and I'll be genuinely grateful.  

By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Tue Oct 03, 09:55:00 PM:

Are those crickets chirping?  

By Blogger AMac, at Tue Oct 03, 11:51:00 PM:

Quiet around here... too quiet.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Wed Oct 04, 08:08:00 PM:

Hey, he EARNED that blog handle...  

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